8 Questions with LEAF performers The Revivalists

The Revivalists, photo by Travis Shinn
The Revivalists, photo by Travis Shinn

8 Questions with LEAF performers The Revivalists

In advance of this season’s LEAF, the 41st bi-annual iteration of the festival, we’re talking to performing artists from the LEAF lineup about the festival’s New Orleans-meets-WNC theme. LEAF takes place Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 15-18, at Camp Rockmont.

Rock and soul band The Revivalists are based in New Orleans. The group, led by vocalist David Shaw, formed in 2007, and recently released its latest studio album, Men Amongst Mountains, which seems fitting considering this festival’s concept.

The Revivalists perform on the Lakeside stage Saturday, Oct. 17, at 5:45 p.m.

Xpress: This season’s LEAF is a celebration of New Orleans, held in the Western North Carolina mountains. Through the filter of The Revivalists’ music, what connections do you see between New Orleans and WNC?

Men Amongst MountainsDavid Shaw: The type of music coming out of these cities and the obvious topography of each is actually pretty different. Asheville is in the mountains and known for string-based mountain-type music and New Orleans is in a hole with a lot of brass and funk, although they do have some overlap in both, and each city has great songwriters. They are also similar in that they both are known for their lively music scenes nestled into their own little areas of the country — [there’s] not a lot around Asheville, and not a ton of cities around New Orleans either — making them pretty unique.

What do you think is the most New Orleans thing about The Revivalists? How does the city inform you as artists?

There are two things. We stay true to who we are, and having a horn section doesn’t hurt. At any given point, you can walk around and hear a brass band on a street corner or see Jon Cleary at the Maple Leaf bar on a Tuesday. So I think it is relative in a lot of ways but mostly it’s obvious that the music is the lifeblood of the city. Unlike other cities, which may be business-orientated or into football, New Orleans has a dark underbelly to it so there’s a lot of art that can come out of it making it pretty influential.

Men Amongst Mountains is a pretty deep album with some intense themes. How has this collection of songs changed your live show? Do you pull out the more upbeat party songs for festivals?

The live show has definitely evolved throughout the years. I can’t really say the collection of new songs has changed our live show, other than we’re playing different songs. It’s always kind of been that we play a few upbeat songs, then take it down. I think we’ve always tried to take the listener and the fans through a plethora of different emotions at a live show and always try to conjure up the same emotion that was felt when the song was written. The songs we play at each show or festival definitely depends on the mood, the time of day, the crowd and our mood as a band. It’s one of those things where we don’t want to always do the same thing, so we don’t always bust out the party songs at festivals, but sometimes.

Almost all of the songs on this album are co-writes. I would imagine there are some vulnerable moments in creating on songs — especially emotional ones — with others. What’s the process like?

Songs can come in a variety of ways with our band. Usually I’ll come up with the backbone and lyrics, then other people will add various melodies and different essential parts to create the song, which classifies it as co-written.

The Live Music Daily interview from earlier this year stated that “one of the biggest setbacks of this era in live music is the absence of a good vocal front-man.” How have you honed your onstage performance? Is the frontman persona something that can be developed, or does it come naturally?

Photo by Emily Sevin Photography
Photo by Emily Sevin Photography

It’s both of those things. It’s something that can definitely be developed, 100 percent. But there’s also a natural instinct that needs to be there. Over the years, I’ve definitely learned by trial and error what to do and what not to do. So it’s kind of been a mix of that and feeling out the vibe of the crowd. I’ve also noticed that it really behooves me to be truly who I am on stage and not try to be some character. Maybe because I’m getting older and more aware of myself, [but] I just think it’s better to be yourself and sometimes that can get lost when you’re trying to front a band.

Your songs feel really organic — do they morph onstage depending on the response of the crowd?

Every night we try and do a little something different during parts of the show. If the energy is right, certain sections can be longer, or shorter if its not feeling right.

When you’re having a really good show and you’re connecting with the audience, what is that experience like?

It’s basically like you’re on autopilot and you can’t do anything wrong, and the audience energy just carries you through all the way until the end. It’s pretty cool. One out of ten show that’s going to happen, and it’s very special when it does.

Besides LEAF, is there anything else you’re looking forward to seeing or doing while in WNC?

I’m looking forward to seeing my good buddy Dave Einzig. He had a new band called Magenta Sunshine, and I hope I get a chance to hear them play.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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